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Diversity Initiatives in Most Organizations are 'Immature' and 'Ineffective'

Analysis  |  By Carol Davis  
   April 19, 2023

Organizations trying to build diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB) are often hampered by lack of leadership support.

Only 38% of organizations offer diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) learning and development programs to all employees, new research says.

The Future of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging 2023 report examines the DEIB landscape, including the extent to which key DEIB initiatives are developed, how frequently DEIB initiatives are funded and supported, and how employers’ use of training, incentives, communication practices, and metrics relate to DEIB.

“The objective for DEIB has to shift from just improving representation of equity deserving groups to creating environments where all employees thrive rather than just survive,” according to the report, which was issued by Circa, a talent acquisition and diversity recruiting firm.

Circa’s survey, which ran from December 2022 to February 2023, gathered 255 complete and partial responses from HR professionals in virtually every industry around the world, but primarily in the United States.

The report revealed these major findings:

DEIB in most organizations is immature and initiatives are seen as ineffective.

More than half (52%) rate the DEIB initiatives in their organizations as ineffective (that is, 4 or below on a 10-point scale). Only 15% say DEIB in their organizations are at the expert or advanced stage on the HR Research Institute’s DEIB maturity model.

One-third say women represent 20% or less of their top leadership in their organization and 73% say the same about ethnic/racial minorities in top leadership positions.

While HR is responsible for DEIB in most organizations, two-thirds spend just 20% or less of their average workweek on DEIB-related work.

In more than half of organizations, the primary responsibility for DEIB issues, programs, and/or policies falls on HR in some way.

“This is an indication of the strategic importance of DEIB. Considering the complex nature of DEIB and the multifaceted approach required to deal with DEIB issues, this amount of time seems hardly enough to be devoting to DEIB issues,” the report states.

Meanwhile, about one-third of organizations do not have a DEIB department, function, or representative.

Organizations aim to build a culture of trust through DEIB initiatives but are hampered by lack of time and leadership support.

The top barriers to increasing the effectiveness of DEIB initiatives are: insufficient prioritization at top leadership levels (44%); lack of metrics to identify insufficient DEIB (44%); lack of time (43%); and inadequate training (40%).

“Without buy-in from top management, DEIB initiatives lack strategic focus and required support,” the report says. “Metrics can help get leadership support by demonstrating how crucial DEIB is to business success. This can also help improve barriers related to lack of understanding of the potential benefits of DEIB (37%).”

Less than one-third of organizations say equitable pay is among the top five priorities in their organizations.

Despite legislation advocating pay transparency and equitable pay, more than one-fifth of respondents say equitable pay is not an organizational priority for executives.

In about a third of organizations (32%), it is among the top five priorities and in just 9% of organizations it is the top priority for executives.

“Pay inequity has been a long-standing issue and organizations who do not focus on these issues are likely to miss out on talented candidates,” the report says.

Organizations use specific DEIB initiatives infrequently and rely on benefits to incentivize equity deserving groups.

The most commonly cited initiatives are: emphasize DEIB in the talent acquisition process (25%); consistently communicate the importance of DEIB throughout the organization (23%); and include DEIB-related training during onboarding (22%).

More than half of organizations offer these benefits/work arrangements to make it easier for diverse employees to work there: paid time off (82%); remote work options (78%); flexible work options (69%); and paid parental leave (60%).

“However, when seen in the light of other results, this brings into question if some of these benefits are offered to all employees as a way to hire and retain good talent in general or if these benefits were designed specifically to help improve DEIB,” the report says.


The report offers eight recommendations for organizations to improve their DEIB:

1. Look at DEIB as a journey and not a destination.

Organizations very often incorporate policies, procedures and systems to improve DEIB as a means of feeling assured that they have done their best to check the DEIB box. However, in reality, undoing years of discrimination and oppression is rarely a short-term goal.

2. Hold critical and vulnerable conversations around DEIB.

Truly moving toward equity requires having vulnerable conversations around discrimination, belonging, and equity. This may require extensive training for managers and other DEIB professionals who hold these conversations to employ active listening, empathy, and help employees feel safe to share their stories.

3. Get help with DEIB initiatives.

Organizations often require help from specialized consultants or employees who have expertise in DEIB to assist them with these initiatives.

4. Utilize DEIB-related data and metrics.

Consistent and holistic measurement of DEIB allows organizations to first determine where they stand, and then measure improvements they make on this baseline.

5. Build inclusive leadership.

Leadership buy-in is critical to any initiative. Top leaders who act as sponsors for DEIB initiatives help increase credibility, remove roadblocks, and increase exposure across the organization.

6. Allow employees to bring their authentic selves to work.

Studies show that minorities often face greater pressure to conform to "white ideals" of professionalism. Employees cannot check their identities at the door when they enter the workplace. Rethink policies around appropriate dress codes and behavior at work.

7. Focus on visibility for underrepresented groups.

One approach to improve visibility for minorities at work is coaching and sponsorship. This provides resources and training to underrepresented groups that helps bring them to a level playing field.

8. Be accountable and focus on specific actions.

Actions could include exploring non-traditional pathways for sourcing a more diverse applicant pool (such as all-women coding camps), creating inclusive job descriptions, training recruiters to look beyond candidates’ academic credentials, and communicating clear career paths for minorities and women.

“The objective for DEIB has to shift from just improving representation of equity deserving groups to creating environments where all employees thrive rather than just survive.”

Carol Davis is the Nursing Editor at HealthLeaders, an HCPro brand.


Diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging in most organizations is immature.

A main barrier to effective DEIB initiatives? Top leaders who don’t prioritize those initiatives.

DEIB is a journey, not a destination because undoing years of discrimination and oppression is rarely a short-term goal.

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